As Mr Don Abney mentions in his book, the Catahoula has the spirit of the wolf, the speed of the Greyhound, the strength of the Mastiff and the assertivity of Beauceron. All this is piled into a loving, intelligent and loyal companion who wants nothing more than to please his master.
I certainly did not know any of these six years ago when I imported my first Catahoula from Canada. Thanks to the cooperation with Canadian breeder Mrs Mary Langevin the basis of the Czech breeding programme of this extraordinary breed had been set.
So far I have got four imported dogs. I can say each of them has a unique personality but everything mentioned above is entirely true. No breed I have ever bred shows such extreme stamina and loyalty. I founded the Catahoula breeding programme without knowledge of any literature and lack of experience as well.
Few years later, we can state, that our own experience is in essential agreement with the knowledge of the American breeders. The only difference are the main goals of use in European conditions. Neither herding cattle, nor the hog trials or even coon hunting would be feasible. Nevertheless Catahoula appears to be such a versatile and outstanding dog one can use for any sports activity. Then it is just a matter of matching the perfect master and the right activity to a particular dog.
When exchanging experience with the Americans, it is obvious, that they are proud to breed Catahoulas. Now it is clear to me, they act completely true, as breeding Catahoulas has become the life mission for many of them.
It is necessary to improve communication and awareness of the Catahoula owners and breeders in our country, so we could also be proud to be the members of such a community. It won´t work without cooperation, solidarity and friendly relationships. It´s a long way to get there and not everyone will be willing to set off.
We have decided to give a hand and organized the first gathering of the Louisiana Catahoula Leopard Dog breeders. The kennel Besavej belonging to Mrs Hana Koutková and my kennel Šumící křídla were the conveners. The main idea was to establish tradition of such gatherings where the breeders and the owners would get to know each other and exchange their experience.
We found out later how lucky we were to have chosen the cooperation with the Lesní hotel in Lazny (Strašín u Sušice). The hotel staff provided great service. This also helped a good spirit of our whole stay. The staff also assisted us with the accomodation of the dogs, though the accomodation capacity is limited. That was why the accomodation specification had been set not according to people, but according to the dogs. So when we arrived on Friday, there were not our names stuck on the doors of our rooms, but the names of our dogs. Which was definetely very kind.
Friday programme started with common dinner which turned into informal meeting of all. As it was pleasant to stay after good dinner, we kept talking almost up to midnight. Suggestions of that evening became a part of Saturday´s and Sunday´s programme.
There were rules set to be respected during the stay to avoid possible problems.
I must say that if I should mark the attitude of all the participants, they would all pass Excellent for their reliability and punctuality.
Saturday morning should be the Big Day. Eight adult males, one adult female and one 6 months old female joined the training.
Everybody was ready on Satudray morning at arranged time. We formed a big circle outside the hotel and introduced one to another. Dogs and us, of course. Then we took different tasks to test the dog´s characters, to find out what one could expect from the participants and what the relationship between the dogs and the masters is like.
As the 2005 show season was getting close we also worked on the show preparation. It was a complete novelty to some of the participants as they had never entered any show. So many adult Catahoulas in one show ring in Europe have never been at a time - it is common to show two or three individuals in one class. I think the situation might change this year although the Catahoula is such a rare breed.
We had some spare time till the lunchtime and we went to a forest nearby where we tested the character again. The goal was to identify the level of the dog´s dominance and the quality of the owner´s handling. In forest it is easier to recognise whether the dog is timid, dominant or assertive. It was a good chance for the owners to realise what their relationship with their dogs is like. And who of them is the master actually. We were pleased to see that most of them were sucesfull. However we could also see there is always something to be improved.
After luch it was time to relax. We moved to a suitable locality which we had agreed with the hunters as they were hunting around. We marked a 3 kilometres long circuit in the forest. Everybody could try to ride a scooter pulled by the dog. The dogs had no similar experience so one of the masters rode the scooter and the other master with his dog harnessed to the scooter followed him. It was not a problem on a frozen road and there was nobody who would not be sweating after this activity (the ones riding in the front especially). I think in the future this activity is going to be really useful and popular. It is not only good for the dog´s condition but also for the master´s. You don´t need so much equipment and don´t have to drive miles to find the right terrain. We don´t recommend riding on asphalt. Riding on the forest or grassy road is the best.
Then everybody could see demonstration of dogtreking.
In my opinion scooter riding and dogtreking could become a single task of some of the next gatherings.
Just before the dusk we arrived back at the hotel. After a short rest we had a lecture and dicussion about the literature refering to American Catahoulas breeding programme. It was a chance to take up with knowledge and experince of Americans that are summed up in two essential (and probably the only ones) publications about this breed. Everybody present could have a look at „The Catahoula Collection“ by Betty Ann Eaves and „The Louisiana Catahoula Leopard Dog. A truly versatile working dog“ by Don Abney.
We discussed the most interesting issues of these books. As both publications involve many pictures of the American dogs, everybody had a chance to compare their dog with them (as for the exterior at least). Such confrontation was a pleasure for us because we could see that we are producing puppies of the best quality. It is difficult to compare working abilities. We have to find new exercise suitable for our conditions.
When discussing it was obvious that we had formed a bunch of real fanciers. Even the dinner had to be postponed for half an hour.
Dinner turned into banquet where everybody could eat and drink whatever he wanted. There were „food champions“ among us, no doubt, but after the banquet there was still some more food left. But nobody refused to have pancakes served at eleven.
After Sunday´s breakfast we walked the dogs together. It took about 3 hours of intensive hiking. We reached Zuklín and although the weather was sunny, the beautiful view of the Šumava foothills was covered with thick fog. Some of us were not prepared for the steep descent. But good mood remained. After lunch we appraised the whole stay and we ended the gathering. There were no awards and medals - everybody concerned was the winner.
When appraising we suggested plans for the next gatherings. Next time there going to be „good old friends“ as well as newcomers who have not had the possibility to be present yet. We also count on those who are at the beginning or even before beginning of living together with their new Catahoula. All necessary information about regular events can be found on www.firstmate.cz/catahoula . One can also find galleries of dog participants there. The next gathering is to be in April 2005. Good luck with it!!!
Ing. Gerhard Stein
Translated by Věra Svobodová